What Happens to Your Body When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep?

Sleep is vital for proper brain function and systemic physiology across the body’s systems. Sleep problems prevail and include a deficit in quality and quantity of sleep. Various factors contribute to sleep disruptions, ranging from environmental and lifestyle factors to other medical conditions like sleep disorders.

Sleep Deprivation is widespread. A National Sleep Foundation study conducted in 2014 determined that 35% of adult Americans rated their quality of sleep as ‘only fair’ or ‘poor’. About 45% of the respondents had trouble sleeping for at least one night each week. Moreover, 23% of the study participants struggled to stay asleep for five or more nights weekly, while 53% struggled to stay asleep on at least a night of the week before.

Not getting enough sleep leads to effects like cognitive slowdown, risk of being involved in accidents, various health issues, lack of sex drive, depression, skin aging, weight gain, forgetfulness, impairment of judgment, and increased mortality risk.

How Much Sleep is Needed?

Generally, you need about 8 hours of quality sleep to properly function. Other people need to sleep more than 8 hours, while others only need fewer hours to sleep.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined that adults should sleep for 7 to 9 hours a night. What is important is that you determine how much sleep you need and then aim to achieve it. You should also adhere to a constant sleep schedule to regulate your internal body clock.

If you get up from bed tired and spend the rest of the day wanting to sleep, you may not be having enough sleep. Various factors can lead to poor sleep like sleep apnea and other medical conditions such as sciatica pain. With these conditions, a proper pillow or mattress will help. Sometimes, poor sleep quality may simply be due to bad sleeping habits.

Other factors aside from sleep apnea include insomnia, restless legs syndrome, sleepwalking, and night terrors, among others. You should visit a sleep specialist if you experience any of the symptoms below.

Symptoms include:

  • Choking, gasping, or snoring while sleeping;
  • Excessive sleepiness during the day;
  • Impaired ability to function properly during the day;
  • Jerking your legs or a restless sensation at night;
  • Falling asleep or feeling tired while driving;
  • Needing sugar or caffeine beverages during the day to remain awake; and
  • Regularly needing sleeping aids.

Effects of Inadequate Sleep

Not only will you feel extra sleepy and grumpy during the day when you lack adequate sleep, you will also notice the lack of sleep’s effects that can impact your health, memory, sex life, weight loss capability, and looks.

Greater Accident Risk

Sleep loss is a public safety hazard, with sleep deprivation one of the reasons for man-made disasters like Chernobyl breakdown in 1986 and the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979.

Daytime sleepiness can also slow down reaction time. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that fatigue – in the United States – led to 1,550 crash-linked deaths annually as well as 100,000 automobile crashes. Other studies determined that poor-quality sleep and sleep loss also lead to workplace injuries and accidents.

Cognitive Impairment

Lack of sleep impairs the learning and thinking processes. It also impairs alertness, attention, reasoning, concentration, and problem-solving. Moreover, if you sleep poorly, you may not remember what you experienced and learned during the day.

Health Issues

When you chronically lack sleep, you may experience one or more health issues like heart attack, heart disease, irregular heartbeat, heart failure, stroke, diabetes, and/or high blood pressure.

Sex Drive Impairment

Sleepiness, depleted energy, and increased tension may be to blame for sleep-deprived women and men’s lack of interest in sex and lower libidos. A 2002 study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism suggests that men suffering from sleep apnea have lower testosterone levels as compared to men enjoying normal sleep.


Sleep disorders and the lack of sleep can lead to depression. Insomnia – the most common sleep issue – is linked strongly to depression. Insomnia and depression ‘feed off’ one another. Sleep loss worsens depression, which can make it difficult for you to fall asleep.


Sleep well if you want to keep your sharp memory. French and American researchers, in 2009, determined that the ‘sharp-wave ripple’ brain events are responsible for memory consolidation. The ‘ripples’ mostly occur during the deepest stages of sleep.

Premature Skin Aging

A few nights of not sleeping properly can lead to puffy eyes and sallow skin. However, chronic insomnia and sleep disruption can lead to fine facial lines, lackluster skin, and under-eye dark circles.

When you’re are not properly sleeping, your body releases cortisol – the stress hormone. Excessive cortisol in the body can break down collagen – a protein that maintains skin elasticity and smoothness.

Weight Gain

Sleep disruption may be linked to an increase in appetite and hunger, and even obesity. While sleep loss may stimulate the appetite, sleep loss also drives you to eat high-carbohydrate, high-fat food. In a 2004 study, people sleeping fewer than 6 hours daily were nearly 30% likelier to become obese than those who slept adequately.

Loss of Judgment

The lack of sleep affects your ability to make decent judgments since you may not carefully assess situations and wisely act on them.

Increased Mortality Risk

British researchers, in the ‘Whitehall II Study,” studied how sleep patterns affected the mortality of over 10,000 civil servants, in a period over two decades. Published in 2007, the study results determined that those who slept from 5 to 7 hours or fewer a night almost doubled the risk of mortality from various causes. The lack of sleep especially doubled the risk of cardiovascular disease death.

Last Thoughts

If you don’t want to experience the above-mention sleep deprivation effects, you should try to catch up on more sleep. You can start on the weekends by sleeping for about 2 extra hours. Go to bed when you’re feeling sleepy, and let your body wake you up.

If you’re consciously trying to sleep better, you may find that you can sleep for more than 10 hours a night. As your body adjusts, the duration you sleep will decrease gradually to your normal levels.

As a short-term solution, try to avoid energy drinks or caffeine. The drinks may temporarily boost your concentration and energy, but may further disturb your sleep patterns in the long run.

Chris Nguyen is the Founder & Chief Editor at Sleep Standards – A health blog all about sleep health. He aims to inspire better sleep and make the world of sleep easy to understand for everyday people. Check out Sleep Standards to find out more about his work.